Thursday, May 16, 2019

Should students be forced to make presentations for assessment?

Image source: Clipart Library.
At this time or year many students are presenting their research results as part of their assessments. For many it is a traumatising experience - I regularly have nervous students in front of me who are terrified of losing marks. We are often told that fear of public speaking is one of the most common of all phobias - yet we (academia) insist on putting students through this experience/torture. And then we grade them!

Anna Fazackerley, writing in The Guardian, asks the question about public speaking: "is the push to make students employable going too far?". Employers often emphasise the importance of communication skills, and it is good to be able to present to colleagues, management, and clients in the work environment. But what about students who suffer from anxiety or other mental conditions - is if fair to force students to present? Mark Twain is quoted as having said: “There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars”. I think it is fair to say that we all get nervous when presenting. Some people are naturally confident, while others do it for a living (eg - Lecturers such as me). Forcing students to present even for 5 minutes can be daunting - most in my experience get through it and I always try my best to get students to be as relaxed as possible.

Fazackerley, in her Guardian article, writes about efforts at Bristol University to offer "presentation coaching, starting with small exercises and building confidence until students feel they can tackle a whole presentation, and that to begin with, "students practise public speaking as part of a group". Help is available, so students should consider this if they are faced with the prospect of a presentation that they are anxious or worried about. 

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